Bush Threatens U.N. Over Clinton Climate Speech

US, Under Fire, Eases Its Stance in Climate Talks

The United States dropped its opposition early Saturday morning to nonbinding talks on addressing global warming after a few words were adjusted in the text of statements that, 24 hours earlier, prompted a top American official to walk out on negotiations.



Posted by Phil Geiger,

Bush Threatens U.N. Over Clinton Climate Speech

By Greg Sargent

New York Magazine Bush-administration officials privately threatened organizers of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, telling them that any chance there might’ve been for the United States to sign on to the Kyoto global-warming protocol would be scuttled if they allowed Bill Clinton to speak at the gathering today in Montreal, according to a source involved with the negotiations who spoke to New York Magazine on condition of anonymity.

Bush officials informed organizers of their intention to pull out of the new Kyoto deal late Thursday afternoon, soon after news leaked that Clinton was scheduled to speak, the source said.

The threat set in motion a flurry of frantic back-channel negotiations between conference organizers and aides to Bush and Clinton that lasted into the night on Thursday, and at one point Clinton flatly told his advisers that he was going to pull out and not deliver the speech, the source said.

“It’s just astounding,” the source told New York Magazine. “It came through loud and clear from the Bush people—they wouldn’t sign the deal if Clinton were allowed to speak.” Clinton spokesman Jay Carson confirmed the dustup took place and that the former president had decided not to go out of fear of harming the negotiations, but Carson declined to comment further.

On Friday afternoon, Clinton did end up speaking at the conference, a global audience of diplomats, environmentalists, and others who were in the final hours of a two-week gathering devoted to discussing the future of the protocol, the existing emissions- controls agreement. In 1997, Al Gore, then vice-president, helped negotiate the protocol, but it never passed the Senate. In 2001, it was formally renounced by the Bush administration, which argues that cutting greenhouse-gas emissions would hurt the American economy.

Some delegations at the conference appear ready to move forward and renegotiate the agreement without the Bush administration. But environmentalists and conference organizers are holding out hope that the administration will reconsider and sign on to the treaty or take steps to implement tougher climate-control standards. Both options would be considered an improvement over current U.S. commitments. But the specter of Clinton’s speaking caused the Bush administration to threaten to walk away.

In his Friday speech, Clinton blasted the Bush administration’s opposition as “flat wrong.”

But the speech almost didn’t happen.

The contretemps started late Thursday afternoon, when the Associated Press ran a story saying that Clinton had been added at the last minute to the gathering’s speaking schedule at the request of conference organizers. According to the source, barely minutes after the news leaked, conference organizers called Clinton aides and told them that Bush-administration officials were displeased.

“The organizers said the Bush people were threatening to pull out of the deal,” the source said. After some deliberation between Clinton and his aides, Clinton decided he wouldn’t speak, added the source: “President Clinton immediately said, ‘There’s no way that I’m gonna let petty politics get in the way of the deal. So I’m not gonna come.’ That’s the message [the Clinton people] sent back to the organizers.”

But the organizers of the conference didn’t want to accept a Bush- administration dictum. They asked Clinton that he go ahead with the speech. “The organizers decided to call the administration’s bluff,” the source said. “They said, ‘We’re gonna push [the Bush people] back on this.’”

Several hours went by, and at the Clinton Foundation’s holiday party on Thursday night, the former president and his aides still thought they weren’t going to Montreal. “The staff that was supposed to go with him had canceled their travel plans,” the source said.

At around 8:30 p.m., organizers called Clinton aides and said that they’d successfully called the bluff of Bush officials, adding that Bush’s aides had backed off and indicated that Clinton’s appearance wouldn’t in fact have adverse diplomatic consequences.

Several hours after all these tense negotiations had been resolved, the U.S. delegation’s chief, Paula Dobriansky, issued a statement saying that events such as Clinton’s speaking “are useful opportunities to hear a wide range of views on global climate change.”

“They were trying to clean up the mess,” the source said. Late Friday the U.S. walked out for other reasons.

A White House spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.


U.S. Criticized After Walking Out of Climate Talks


MONTREAL, Dec. 9 - Two weeks of treaty talks on global warming neared an end today with the world's current and projected leaders in emissions of greenhouse gases, the United States and China, still refusing to take any mandatory steps to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Bush administration was sharply criticized by other governments and by environmental groups for walking out of a round of informal discussions shortly after midnight that were aimed at finding new ways of curbing gases.

"This shows just how willing the U.S. administration is to walk away from a healthy planet and its responsibilities to its own people," said Jennifer Morgan of the World Wildlife Fund.

American officials declined to comment Thursday afternoon on their actions. They released a printed statement, but it referred only to the expected visit and speech later today by former President Bill Clinton.

Paula Dobriansky, the head of the American delegation, said that public events like Mr. Clinton's presentation were "useful opportunities to hear a wide range of views on global climate change."

The meeting is the latest in a 17-year string of sessions aimed at moving both industrial powers and fast-growing developing countries toward cutting emissions of the greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide, which are an unavoidable byproduct of burning coal, oil and forests.

They have produced two agreements. The first, the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, was accepted by nearly all the world's countries, including the United States, but includes no binding targets and never defines an unacceptably dangerous concentration of greenhouse gases.

The Kyoto Protocol, an addendum to the first treaty, took effect in February but only requires about three dozen industrial countries to make cuts in the gases. It was rejected in 2001 by President Bush.

At the Montreal meeting on Friday, countries bound by the Kyoto pact were close to agreeing on a plan to negotiate a new set of targets and timetables for cutting emissions after its terms expire in 2012.

But under pressure from some countries that were already having trouble meeting Kyoto targets, the language included no specific year for completing talks on next steps, instead indicating that parties would "aim to complete" work "as soon as possible."

In a news conference, environmental groups tried to cast that decision as a successful signal to emerging markets in credits earned by cutting greenhouse gases.

But even if those talks generate new targets, some scientists said today that they would be insufficient to stem harmful warming without much broader actions by the biggest and fastest-growing polluters.

In a statement from London, Lord Martin Rees, the new president of Britain's Royal Society, an independent national scientific academy, said that ongoing disputes among wealthy nations over how to cut the gas emissions were distracting them from actually carrying out steps to make the cuts.

Environmental campaigners insisted that the Kyoto process would eventually force other countries, particularly the United States, to act by building a market for credits achieved by making deep cuts in carbon dioxide and the other gases.

"As Kyoto deepens and broadens, U.S. business and industry will mount irresistible pressure on United States leadership to re-engage in the process rather than be shut out of markets of the future," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group that supports binding cuts in heat-trapping gases.

But lobbyists and groups associated with businesses that oppose such restrictions scoffed at the prospect of a meaningful carbon market.

The National Center for Public Policy Research, one such group, worked the halls, distributing mock emissions credits.

These are the chits created under a "cap and trade" system for controlling pollution that allow those businesses that make cuts beyond requirements to sell the extra tons to others.

In this case, the mock credits were printed in five languages on rolls of toilet paper.

Environmental groups responded in kind.

The National Environmental Trust distributed custom-printed noise- making rubber Whoopee Cushions printed with a caricature of President Bush and the words "Emissions Accomplished."


Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

Phil Geiger

Informant: Martin Greenhut


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